I started this blog ten years ago to report on events and issues I thought the mainstream news media were either ignoring or misrepresenting when it came to regulation of small farms, and especially small dairy farms distributing raw milk.
In the process, I poked both the mainstream media and government agencies I thought were badly reporting events and data. I went after media for simply accepting CDC data on raw milk and other food safety illnesses, without looking at underlying assumptions, and I went directly after the CDC and the U.S. FDA for misinterpreting data about raw milk and raw milk cheese.
In the process, I think those of us in favor of food choice made some strides. The number of states sanctioning raw milk has increased, the number of legal/regulatory cases against small dairies has decreased, and the pressure to restrict availability of raw-milk cheese has seriously stalled.
In all this conflict, I never accused a media outlet or a government agency of fabricating a story, of publishing what we are now calling “fake news.” That’s because I never saw such an example, even in situations where I vehemently disagreed with the portrayal of events or interpretation of data. (That isn’t to say fake news hasn’t been published—but eventually with acknowledgment, and embarrassment, by the media affected.)
Yet I now see readers of this blog or on Facebook with whom I’ve interacted over the years respond in recent weeks to my posts or comments by immediately discounting any references to the NY Times, or other mainstream media, as not to be believed, and thus not to be a factor in any discussion. Recent case in point is Gary Ogden, who argues, following my previous post: “It is incredibly naive to trust the New York Times, or any of the mainstream media. Fake news? A partial list: WMD in Iraq. The Warren Commission Report. The 9/11 Report. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident. ‘The light at the end of the tunnel.’ Just the obvious ones. It is, as well, the framing of the stories, and the multitude of topics that are internally censored (no questioning of vaccine policy allowed, ever).”
It seems absurd to have to say it, but none of the examples listed by Ogden originated with the media. The media reported on these incidents or reports put out by government officials or commissions. There was no way for the media to know the real situation about the weapons of mass destruction claims by American intelligence (and accepted by many other countries), until various inspectors, including U.S. troops, disproved them. (Not to say the U.S. government wasn’t terribly negligent and deceitful, to effect we became involved in a brutal war that led to destruction throughout the Mideast.) The Warren Commission issued a report on the assassination of President John Kennedy, which was the first official assessment of how the killing occurred. It has been the subject of endless debate and discussion and countervailing theories, and to this day there isn’t a final word on the subject. Similar situations with the other examples listed.
I’m not sure what the point is even supposed to be—that the media should have known and reported the “real” story behind these situations before the government reports? That the media shouldn’t have published the government versions because the media should assume the government versions are wrong, or fake? If not, then whose version of the events should be published?
Returning to the example that ignited the “fake news” debate here: the investigation of a report that the Democrats were busing in paid demonstrators to protest Trump’s election right after Nov. 8. The NY Times reporters interviewed the man who came up with the “news,” which he readily acknowledged wasn’t real news. He had seen a bunch of buses, and then extrapolated, without evidence, that they must be associated with the demonstrators. It’s basic investigative journalism, going back over the chronology of events to determine what actually occurred. Yet any number of people, including several here, refuse to even read it because it comes from the NY Times.
As I told one individual who gave me that response regarding another issue, based on my providing a link to a NY Times report, if you’re going to reject out of hand any documentation that comes from mainstream media, and not provide other documentation in its place, then there really isn’t a basis for any kind of rational discussion.
Presumably, this new rigidity in thinking is related to our country’s ongoing political upheaval. Clearly, many Americans have come to lose all trust in the mainstream news media. Clearly, much of the disillusionment stems from the drumbeat of criticism from Donald Trump, who disparages the media in general, especially media that might question or criticize him in any way. And now we learn it is quite the thing by wealthy business people to try to quash the media— the NY Times Sunday in its magazine documented a campaign by a handful of business tycoon billionaires (including Trump) to systematically try to intimidate the media through libel-based lawsuits. It’s well worth reading, simply to understand better the ins and outs of libel law, and how these tycoons want to use it to restrict freedom of the press.
One more time, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with questioning any publication’s account of events, or interpretation of events, especially if you have reason to suspect the presentation is inaccurate. No one has a monopoly on truth.
But there’s a difference between questioning and debating, and refusing even to read or listen. No one knows where this new disdain for a free press is headed, but here is my prediction: The ongoing efforts to trample freedom of the press will come bundled with other squashing of rights (with the exception of gun rights). As a result, we’re headed toward some kind of civil conflict. It may not be a civil war of the type that nearly destroyed this country 150 years ago, but it could be bitter enough that it leads to a serious disintegration of our union. Already there are rumbles from a few independent-minded states and cities of rejection of the likely coming new agenda. San Francisco lawmakers recently passed a resolution resolving to defend the city’s undocumented immigrants, its gay residents, and others. There is talk in California of outright secession. Mayors of other cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle have reaffirmed their status as “sanctuary cities.”
To me, this kind of thing is in keeping with the move in Maine that has led some 16 local towns to pass ordinances for food sovereignty, and keep passing them despite a veto of the move by the state’s supreme court. These towns are practicing food freedom as an option to steer clear of over-regulated food. Why shouldn’t other cities and towns seek ways to avoid restrictions of human rights, including deportations of local residents back to Mexico or other places, of restrictions on women seeking abortions, of gays seeking to have families, and so on and so forth?
One thing is for sure: A free press will be as essential to keeping people informed about the coming challenges, including about the moves to restrict the media, as it was in 1776, when journalist Thomas Paine published Common Sense, to rouse Americans to revolt. He published the booklet anonymously, because we didn’t yet have freedom of the press, and he could have been arrested and executed for what he did.
Congratulations to Canadian farmers Michael Schmidt and Montana Jones, on the dropping of charges in connection with a “sheep-napping” case four years ago. An Ontario judge agreed with the defendants the the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was unreasonably delaying the case. The farmers’ victory is testimony to their resistance against government retribution and intimidation in connection with the slaughter of rare Shropshire sheep that the CFIA was convinced was carrying a dangerous disease that could spread widely among area sheep. The government had gone to the extreme tactic of convincing a judge to enforce a press blackout of the proceedings–something I fought on this blog. And here is a report from a national Canadian paper, on today’s proceedings and background on the case.